In a normal year, Shannon Baker and her family would be preparing to spend Fourth of July weekend with relatives in Houston or Louisiana and taking in fireworks and parties wherever they’re at.
This year, however, the party will have to take place at their Sugar Land home as they continue to experience the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s always a time we look forward to with family that we don’t normally get to see during the year,” Baker said. “Not being able to do that is kind of depressing a little bit because of this whole situation.”
Theirs is not a solitary story. In addition to the Baker family, residents around the area have been forced to readjust their Independence Day plans and “come together” while socially distancing. Many municipalities have been forced to implement contingency plans as the holiday approaches, and multiple area events have either been amended or cancelled in light of social distancing guidelines.
“Usually it’s Mother Nature that we are up against, but this year with COVID-19 it is like playing chess and wondering what is the best next move,” Rosenberg Events Manager Carrie Marmol said.
Last week, the Rosenberg City Council voted to modify its annual Fourth of July celebration. A news release from the city said it will still host the fireworks show at dusk, but Seabourne Creek Nature Park – typically where residents can take in the show – will be closed.
The city said the live vendors and music for the event, which draws about 6,000 people each year, has also been cancelled. Residents are still encouraged to take in the 25-minute show from various points around the city while maintaining social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
The upper-respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus strain has infected 3,716 Fort Bend County residents as of Monday morning, according to the county. Rosenberg has 278 cases.
“Every day we are having to adapt to new information and try to make the best decision possible for not only our community but for the city employees as well,” Marmol said.
The same is happening in Sugar Land, with the annual Red, White and Boom celebration going virtual on Saturday. Gone this year are the children’s zone and face painting stations as well as the live music and vendors which typically populate Crown Festival Park.
“It’s certainly different, but events are really ever-changing. As event planners, we’ve been known to kind of go with the flow of things,” Sugar Land Recreation Event Coordinator Briana Bachemin said. “With this specific situation, we just want to keep the community as safe as possible.”
As part of the celebration, the city will create a 30-minute video montage that will go live on the city’s Facebook page at 8 p.m. Saturday. Event organizers asked residents to submit short videos of them reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The pre-recorded celebration video will feature local residents, businesses and city staff all showcasing community pride before reflecting on footage from past years’ event programming and fireworks finale.
As the state began reopening last month, Bachemin said Sugar Land leaders tossed around ideas such as a physical fireworks show and even a viewing party where residents could gather and stay in their cars to watch the fireworks, before eventually settling on the virtual celebration. The pandemic and ever-changing executive orders has wreaked havoc on the area’s planners, even forcing Missouri City and Stafford to cancel their planned festivities.
“There’s so many moving pieces to this, we didn’t know what we would be allowed to do,” Bachemin said.
Despite the fact many will be unable to gather in the typical spirit of the holiday, Bachemin said the city did its best to keep the sense of camaraderie that’s typically present on Independence Day with the video montage as well as selling do-it-yourself party kits for home celebrations.
“It’s something that hits home for everyone,” she said. “We’re proud to be able to showcase that togetherness, because it means so much to still be able to do something with all the chaos that’s going on right now.”
Baker echoed the sentiment, saying the lack of physical togetherness will not keep her family from celebrating the holiday. The family plans to FaceTime relatives they cannot physically visit, while her husband will cook barbecue on the grill as normal to keep their spirits up.
“We can’t leave the house. We’ll still try to do those things, even if we can’t do them with everybody else this year,” she said. “Then when this over, we’ll make those trips again.”